Survey Series: 25, Catholic, & Here For The Party

Forgive me for the long (read: very, very long) hiatus I took smack dab in the center of this series. It was very Mary Kate-esque of me to start my first series and then take, like, a two month break after the first post. *sigh* His power is perfected in my weakness, y’all. Mea Culpa!

Anyway, so: in continuing this series, we come to the second most common response I had when I asked young adults in a recent survey what it was they were looking for from their church communities—and so, here we are: 25, Catholic, & Here For The Party.

IT’S COMMUNITY. Young adults are looking for community and fellowship from the church. It’s the reason that young adult events offering free beer, wine, and La Croix (as one survey respondent put it) are typically so successful—not because we’re all like, 25, Catholic, & Here For The Free Alcohol, but because the opportunity to gather around food or drink is the opportunity to gather. Period.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently, both within this context and elsewhere, about the call that each human person has to be a self-gift. In Pope Paul VI’s Gaudium Et Spes, we’re reminded that:

“Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, “that all may be one. . . as we are one” (John 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God’s sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.(2)”

JP II echoed this idea, when he said in Redemptor Hominis that:

“…man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.”

Man must create a gift of himself. We cannot so much as begin to understand ourselves if we do not have opportunities to love in our lives. So where can we find these opportunities?
One of these places, I believe, is in community.

I often think back to college and the emphasis placed on community that most of us likely experienced. College freshmen are encouraged to “get involved”—rush a fraternity or sorority, join a club sport, participate in Newman Center events, and for what? For community.

The Catechism is bursting with good material on this topic:

“The human person needs to live in society. Society is not for him an extraneous addition but a requirement of his nature. Through the exchange with others, mutual service and dialogue with his brethren, man develops his potential; he thus responds to his vocation.” (1879)

But here is where we must return to a post I wrote a few weeks months back: the choice of whom we enter into community with is so, so important.

C.S. Lewis delves into this in “The Four Loves” when he discussed the difference between companionship and friendship. You can read more about that here.
Gaudium Et Spes touches this topic within the context of both public and private life:

“Among those social ties which man needs for his development, some, like the family and political community, relate with greater immediacy to his innermost nature; others originate rather from his free decision. In our era, for various reasons, reciprocal ties and mutual dependencies increase day by day and give rise to a variety of associations and organizations, both public and private. This development, which is called socialization, while certainly not without its dangers, brings with it many advantages with respect to consolidating and increasing the qualities of the human person, and safeguarding his rights. (4)

But if by this social life the human person is greatly aided in responding to his destiny, even in its religious dimensions, it cannot be denied that men are often diverted from doing good and spurred toward and by the social circumstances in which they live and are immersed from their birth. To be sure the disturbances which so frequently occur in the social order result in part from the natural tensions of economic, political, and social forms. But at a deeper level they flow from man’s pride and selfishness, which contaminate even the social sphere. When the structure of affairs is flawed by the consequences of sin, man, already born with a bent toward evil, finds there new inducements to sin, which cannot be overcome without strenuous efforts and the assistance of grace.”

Obviously we see the undertones of public life at play here, but the emphasis on the impact that community can have and the notion of communities originated from free decision are just as important.

If the social environments we’re born into can impact us this much, the ones we choose for ourselves are that much more critical.

And young adult Catholics know this. What’s more, we know ourselves and our faith, and we deeply desire a community that not only welcomes this, but embraces and contributes to it. And we deeply desire to give ourselves back to a community that gives us what we’re looking for.

It is, like so many other things, part of the human condition.

And it’s why we seek it in the Church.

Survey Series: 25, Catholic & Tryna Get Dates

Well, not just ‘dates’ necessarily—maybe “25, Catholic, & Tryna Get A Good Catholic Spouse” would’ve been a better title here—but like, *clickbait*, ya know? I digress…

From a marketing perspective, it’s definitely stupid that I’m putting this article out as the first of this series. If I had any smarts at all, I’d tease this one in 3 or 4 other articles before posting it, as it’s *undoubtedly* the most appealing topic for single young adults.

(Also BIG shouts to my friends Matt and Allison for letting me borrow their pic for this article. Katherine Salvatori is a Chicago-based photographer and took SUPER beautiful photos of their wedding.)

Just the same, I like to give the people what they want—and it’s very clear based on these surveys (which a group of my young adult Catholic friends completed for me last month, in case you missed that) that young adults want opportunities within the Church to date.

But make no mistake—this isn’t a Tinderesque, Bumble-for-Catholics, “dating for the sake of dating” mentality—rather, it’s an intentional one. It’s a reflection of the desire that devout, vocation-minded young adults have for a holy, Christ-centered marriage—and it’s one the Church should emphatically embrace.

Obviously I can’t speak for men, but I do feel I can speak for women here. Secular dating is really a struggle. It’s really, really, REALLY hard to go into a dating situation knowing there’s a good chance that your opposite will outright reject you when he learns you’re waiting until marriage to have sex, or that you want to use NFP versus artificial birth control, or that you’d like to quit your job to homeschool your dozen kids one day (I’m kidding… jk I’m not). I think many of us have been there, and it’s tough. It presents a major temptation to despair, and ultimately, to settle—because who wouldn’t rather settle than face outright rejection entirely? (That’s a rhetorical question. I’d advise rejection over settling in your marriage any day.)

I know a lot of Catholic women, myself included, who didn’t actually think there was a place in existence that they might find a holy, God-fearing man. Imagine my surprise when I realized the CHURCH was the best place to go looking for those people. And holy mackerel, it’s such a shock when you finally encounter them. I’ll never forget the first time I heard a grown man mention his “chastity” (I was like “wait… your what?”). Yeah, these people exist. Amazing.

Here’s the thing: it’s great to seek dating relationships in places where you’ll encounter people with whom you have things in common. If you really enjoy rock climbing, then sure, join a rock climbing group. But if you do meet, date, and marry someone based on your common interest in rock climbing, it’s possible you’re going to have a bad time. (Of course you could meet someone who likes rock climbing and is also a devout Catholic. I’m just trying to make a point. Goodness gracious, you guys.)

In my opinion, the Catholic Church should be (and in some very lucky communities, already is) in the business of matchmaking. Absolutely, 100 percent, I believe the Church should be actively working to connect good single Catholic women with good single Catholic men. Why? It’s the future of the Church. It’s quite literally a recipe for good Catholic children that will (hopefully, God-willing) grow up to someday be a NEW set of good Catholic men and women. It’s a recipe for an increase in vocations—we need people who will raise their children to discern the priesthood or the consecrated life. And it’s a recipe for MORE holy married couples, because let’s be honest—the world could use an uptick in all of the above!

This is why this matters so much. There’s something really, really right and beautiful about people in their 20s and 30s who’d like to be married, seeking that opportunity within the walls of the Church. How can the Church expect to engage families if it’s not catching the two at the center—the husband and wife—before they’ve made that commitment and built that foundation? Answer: it simply can’t.

Practically speaking, how can the Church go about encouraging these dating relationships and creating an environment that’s conducive to Catholic match-making? Well, there’s a lot of ways. The obvious are young adult social events and straight-forward opportunities like speed dating, etc. But quite honestly, this is part of the reason it’s so important for parishes to engage young adults in general. “So how can parishes do that, Mary Kate?” I’m so glad you asked! I’ll discuss this further in future posts within this series 🙂

As far as I’m concerned, we’ve left things up to chance for far too long (Divine Providence notwithstanding). There’s a market for Church-inspired matchmaking, and we’ve got to make it happen. So for the love of all that is holy, you guys—LET THE PEOPLE DATE.

25 & Catholic: Finding Peace In Aloneness

Around this time last year, I traveled to Italy alone for one month. And when I look back on that time, there’s a lot that I can say I gained—spiritually, figuratively, what have you—from the experience. One of those items is a immense appreciation for dining alone.

It’s something I’ve come to relish in. Almost every payday, pending other plans, I treat myself to a meal out all by myself.

That’s not to say I don’t love socializing or crave quality time spent with good people. In fact, I’ve found that on a more permanent basis, I don’t do quite as well alone. A talker like me wasn’t made to spend 12+ hours a day by herself. Just the same, I relish in that time spent enjoying a meal alone.

It’s amazing what quiet can do for our thoughts. And not so much a physical quiet—I don’t necessarily seek restaurants that are especially lacking in noise, if you will (do those even exist?). I’m referring more so to a mental quiet. There’s so much to be gained from stepping away from friend chatter, social media chatter, the chatter of the world—and receding back into a quieted mind for reflection and conversation with God.

St. Teresa of Calcutta said once:

“We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence; see the stars, the moon, and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.”

I think that many people make the mistake of equating aloneness with loneliness, but the two are not the same. One can find quiet solitude with God and not feel loneliness; just the same, one can feel very, very lonely in the midst of constant noise. While loneliness is an undeniable cross (Mother Teresa often called it the worst of all poverties), solitude with the Lord is not just a luxury, but a necessity.

I’m of the belief that spending time in silence with the Lord is critical to our ability to know ourselves. Who am I in the absence of other people? Where do my thoughts wander? What emotions am I feeling?

I often think of a scene in Bride Wars that expresses this thought. Yes, you’re thinking of the right Bride Wars—the one with Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway. At the beginning of the movie, Hathaway’s character comments that a person’s ability to be alone with his own thoughts is a reflection of whether there’s peace in his life. And toward the climax of the movie, as Hathaway’s character experiences an increasing discomfort in her engagement, she notably starts wearing earbuds on her runs—an indication that she’s uncomfortable in the silence of her own thoughts. This is a very honest premise.

Busyness serves as a distraction in our lives. There’s something to be said for a person’s ability to just sit and “be”—be alone with himself, alone with God, alone with the thoughts and prayers “in the quiet of his heart.”

This is especially important as single people in our twenties who’re preparing for a vocation. It’s especially challenging as well, however, because loneliness does sometimes creep into our aloneness as a single person. Bobby Angel addressed this well:

“A dear seminarian friend told me that “loneliness is just God asking you to spend time with Him.” Pope Benedict (when he was Cardinal Ratzinger) wrote that “the Fathers of the Church say that prayer, properly understood, is nothing other than becoming a longing for God.” St. Teresa of Avila also wrote that God hears us “not with noise of words… but with longing.” If you’re waiting on the Lord for your vocation to be unveiled, waiting for an answer, waiting for Godot, or waiting for your rocket to come, have patience. Enter into that solitude, that stillness, that stretch. Allow God to transform your ache. Don’t run from it—own it. Become a longing.”

If aloneness draws you into loneliness, enter into it. Accept it. Embrace it. Take up your cross, and know that God is faithful, and He is walking alongside you. And in the meantime, dive deep into the silence of your heart. Confront the deepest musings of your soul with courage.

And spend some time in the quiet.

Today’s The Feast Day Of St. Maximillian Kolbe. Here’s What He Can Teach Us About Neo-Nazis And Antifa.

Chris Stefanick posted a moving video this morning of himself standing in Auschwitz, telling the story of Fr. Maximillian Kolbe, whose feast day is today.

His memory stands in stark contrast to the violence we saw in Virginia over the weekend, perpetrated by two groups of extremists that have made hateful rhetoric and actions central to the means by which they carry out their missions.

You can watch the video here.

From the moment Virginia declared a state of emergency on Saturday, the steady stream of Facebook posts, tweets, and general commentary from everyone from politicians to personal friends has been almost overwhelming. It seems everyone has an opinion on who bears the greatest responsibility, and that’s entirely fair—when a life is lost the way one was on Saturday, a national conversation surrounding what could’ve prevented it seems to be the only appropriate response.

All of that being said, I’ve seen hardly any mention of God or faith in any of these opinions. Of course we should condemn racism. Of course we should condemn violence. But what is at the root, here? Why is it that we’re suddenly reacting so angrily—and violently—to differing viewpoints?

Most would tell you it’s Trump, but it’s not. I’ll never forget the last-minute road trip I made with two friends down to Louisiana for the 2014 senatorial runoff election—we listened to tail end reports of Ferguson unrest for much of the way down. This was long before the Trump phenomenon, yet we’ve placed the blame for this sudden civil discourse entirely on his shoulders.

Has he contributed? I’m not sure. But here’s what I can say with surety:

I’ll never be convinced that violent, hateful unrest like what we saw on Saturday is anything other than the product of a lack of God in our society. A lack of peace out in the world is a reflection of a lack of peace in the hearts of those involved. When we meet aggression with aggression and violence with violence, we exhibit a lack of faith in Christ and a separation from the suffering and persecution He endured during His time on earth. The peace required to face such aggression with humility, courage, and love for other human beings can only be acquired through a genuine encounter with the Lord in our hearts. If we do not have that peace within, we cannot exhibit it out in the world.

Maximillian Kolbe is such a moving, remarkable example of this peace. Stefanick explains in his video above that during his time in Auschwitz, St. Maximillian volunteered to take the place of a husband and father who’d been sent away to starve to death in a dark, locked room. This faithful, humble Catholic priest had such peace in his heart that he met the aggression of the Nazis with the ultimate sacrifice—the offering of his life. And Stefanick adds that the Nazi Commander trembled in his presence.

St. Maximillian lived in that room, starving, for twelve days. The Nazis finally ended his starvation with a lethal injection that took his life. And other camp members who knew him and what he’d done responded to his martyrdom by singing hymns throughout the camp.

This is a man who knew peace in his heart. This is a man who knew the love of Christ.

We cannot and will not deliver our country from this violence without this same sense of peace and this same faith in God’s love. On this feast day of Fr. Maximillian Kolbe, let us remember that.

Finding Peace In Divine Mercy

I was sitting up in bed tonight, listening to music on my phone and scrolling through social media (as I often do), when I came across a comment someone had left on my blog’s ‘Contact Me’ page that I, for whatever reason, had not noticed before.

This person who commented did not like me or my blog, haha. That was obvious. He called me “a character,” accused me of white privilege, and shamed me for “backtracking” after a piece I wrote in my full time writing position for a political blog online.

This isn’t the first hateful comment that’s been directed at me on the internet, nor will it be the last. Especially in my current job, I’ve been on the receiving end of more than a handful of nasty tweets and social media comments. It’s simply in the nature of being a political writer today. I think most of my colleagues would agree that this is true.

It’s a little ironic though, because as I find myself on the receiving end of such comments online, I’m reminded that I’ve been the subject of similar scrutinies in my personal life—my real life—as well. Recent events have increased my awareness of a truth I’ve been vaguely privy to for some time, and have given it a greater foothold than it has had in the past: that some people just don’t like me.

I’ve always had a strong personality. Growing up, that fact won me both friends and enemies. Kids can be mean. Like, really mean. I got a little taste of that in junior high. Sometimes, I feel like those same opinions of my character have followed me – first, into high school. Then, into college—and now, most recently, into my mid-twenties.

That seems silly, right? It seems silly that I could feel threatened by the same voices that spoke out of turn when I was 12 and 13—more than a decade ago. But for those of us who’ve had this kind of experience, in whatever form it takes, I think it’s important to find peace here.

I said recently in a Facebook post: There will always be people in this life who do not especially like us. There will always be people who are judgmental, or rude, or who gossip, and there will always be people who are just simply mean. But we have to find peace in this place. We have to find peace in the knowledge that the Lord sees into our hearts. 1 Kings 8:39 says “…for You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men.” We have to find peace here—in this place where the Lord’s opinion is the only one that matters.

Sometimes how others treat us is more about them, but sometimes, it really is about us. Humility starts when we accept our own weaknesses and leave them at the foot of the cross, where Christ reminded us that His power is perfected in those weaknesses. And that’s what confession is for: to actively pursue that humility, that awareness of our own imperfections and our own inclinations to sin, so we can pick up and try again tomorrow.

Peace in this truth gives us freedom. Because once we realize the truth, which is that only the Lord’s opinion matters, and that our worth is founded in HIM—not in what others’ think or say of us—we are free to be “in the world but not of the world.” We are free to live with the approval of the Lord in mind, rather than the approval of the world and our peers.

Whenever a fellow sister or priest criticized another to Mother Teresa, it is said she often met their gossip with something to the effect of: “I’m sure if you or I had been in their situation, we would have done much worse.” We would do well to seek the best in people’s hearts and pardon the wrongs they commit. The mercy of the Lord is limitless; our mercy for one another should aim to achieve this same goal.

I’m a far from perfect person. I deserve much of the scrutiny that’s thrown my way. I am hopeful in the Lord, however, who sees my heart and hears my confession. I believe in His love, I believe in His mercy, and I’m grateful His cross has made all things new.

Blockin’ Out The Haters & Finding Peace In Divine Mercy

I was sitting up in bed tonight, listening to music on my phone and scrolling through social media (as I often do), when I came across a comment someone had left on my blog’s ‘Contact Me’ page that I, for whatever reason, had not noticed before.

This person who commented did not like me or my blog, haha. That was obvious. He called me “a character,” accused me of white privilege, and shamed me for “backtracking” after a piece I wrote in my full time writing position for a political blog online.

This isn’t the first hateful comment that’s been directed at me on the internet, nor will it be the last. Especially in my current job, I’ve been on the receiving end of more than a handful of nasty tweets and social media comments. It’s simply in the nature of being a political writer today. I think most of my colleagues would agree that this is true.

It’s a little ironic though, because as I find myself on the receiving end of such comments online, I’m reminded that I’ve been the subject of similar scrutinies in my personal life—my real life—as well. Recent events have increased my awareness of a truth I’ve been vaguely privy to for some time, and have given it a greater foothold than it has had in the past: that some people just don’t like me.

I’ve always had a strong personality. Growing up, that fact won me both friends and enemies. Kids can be mean. Like, really mean. I got a little taste of that in junior high. Sometimes, I feel like those same opinions of my character have followed me – first, into high school. Then, into college—and now, most recently, into my mid-twenties.

That seems silly, right? It seems silly that I could feel threatened by the same voices that spoke out of turn when I was 12 and 13—more than a decade ago. But for those of us who’ve had this kind of experience, in whatever form it takes, I think it’s important to find peace here.

I said recently in a Facebook post: There will always be people in this life who do not especially like us. There will always be people who are judgmental, or rude, or who gossip, and there will always be people who are just simply mean. But we have to find peace in this place. We have to find peace in the knowledge that the Lord sees into our hearts. 1 Kings 8:39 says “…for You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men.” We have to find peace here—in this place where the Lord’s opinion is the only one that matters.

Sometimes how others treat us is more about them, but sometimes, it really is about us. Humility starts when we accept our own weaknesses and leave them at the foot of the cross, where Christ reminded us that His power is perfected in those weaknesses. And that’s what confession is for: to actively pursue that humility, that awareness of our own imperfections and our own inclinations to sin, so we can pick up and try again tomorrow.

Peace in this truth gives us freedom. Because once we realize the truth, which is that only the Lord’s opinion matters, and that our worth is founded in HIM—not in what others’ think or say of us—we are free to be “in the world but not of the world.” We are free to live with the approval of the Lord in mind, rather than the approval of the world and our peers.

Whenever a fellow sister or priest criticized another to Mother Teresa, it is said she often met their gossip with something to the effect of: “I’m sure if you or I had been in their situation, we would have done much worse.” We would do well to seek the best in people’s hearts and pardon the wrongs they commit. The mercy of the Lord is limitless; our mercy for one another should aim to achieve this same goal.

I’m a far from perfect person. I deserve much of the scrutiny that’s thrown my way. I am hopeful in the Lord, however, who sees my heart and hears my confession. I believe in His love, I believe in His mercy, and I’m grateful His cross has made all things new.

AN OPPORTUNITY FOR SACRIFICE: The Case For Abstaining From Meat This St. Patrick’s Day

I’m just gonna be up front and say it like it is: I don’t love that Catholic bishops across the country are telling people it’s okay to eat meat this Friday.

My family isn’t Irish (or like, overtly Irish, at least), but we still have corned beef every year on St. Patrick’s Day because corned beef is awesome and my mom is a good cook.

Actually, aside from St. Patrick’s Day and a handful of other times throughout the year, my family really doesn’t eat much meat. In fact, my mom and I were just talking the other day about how forgoing meat on Fridays isn’t a particularly difficult thing for us.

I get that not all families are this way, though. I get that, for some families, eating corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day might not just be a fun excuse to overindulge on salt the way that it is for my family. I get that it might be a tradition that runs slightly deeper than that, and that’s fine.

But if that’s the case—if you can’t fathom your St. Patrick’s Day without a slab of beef involved—all the more reason not to have it this year.

‘Lenten sacrifice’ is called sacrifice for a reason—it’s meant to prepare us for the Lord’s coming, both in body and in soul.

And sacrifices are especially valuable to us as Christians—they allow us the opportunity to share in the sufferings the Lord experienced on the cross, by experiencing them in our own daily lives. When we suffer, even in the small ways (waiting in line at the DMV, stubbing our toe on a kitchen chair), we’re presented with an opportunity: the chance to unite with Christ, even if only for that brief moment, in that tiny way.

Fasting, in practice, is not just a silly tradition we abide by because it’s how we’ve done it for thousands of years. While yes, it is true that abstaining from meat on Fridays was much more trying during the time of the early Christians than it is for us now (we can just roll over to our local seafood joint and order up a pricey Lobster plate instead), fasting from a more general perspective bears spiritual fruits that are the same now as they were then—that is, if your heart is in it.

The Church gives general guidelines for abstaining from meat during Lent, and there are excuses built into those guidelines—like if you’re ill or elderly, you’re not expected to abide by the fasting requirement.

So, in considering that: will you die if you don’t have corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day? Probably not.

Might it be hard and sort of suck and require slightly more effort on your part not to have it? Absolutely. But that’s exactly how a real sacrifice should feel—that’s pretty much the whole point.

There’s something great to be said for having the self-restraint to abstain from food—and that’s just in general. I’m not suggesting anyone starve themselves—obviously we need food to survive and to pretend otherwise would simply be untrue. But self control is undeniably a good and virtuous thing.

And we’re taught that saying ‘no’ to those smaller things, like certain foods, teaches us how to say ‘no’ to those larger things, like mortal sin. Jason Evert often suggests that couples who struggle with chastity should fast—fasting purifies the heart.

The saints are a primary example of this. Some of our Church’s greatest saints made a regular practice of fasting—and not just during Lent, but at all times of the year. In this context, we should recognize fasting for what it is: an incredible gift, a tool given to us by God so as to grow closer to Him, and become more like Him.

You know how Jesus spent 40 days in the desert prior to His crucifixion? And how he fasted during that time? And you know how the devil followed him around, mocking him, giving Him excuses to break His fast because He wanted to see Him fall?

What if this whole corned beef thing is kind of like that…? A temptation to choose against abstaining from meat, when we could instead say no, offer it up, and grow closer to Christ in the process.

For the record, I’m all for eating meat at any other time. God gave us dominion over animals and I recognize that, and we should totally hunt them and eat them—that’s what they’re there for (among a slew of other reasons).

But God also gave us dominion over our own bodies. He gave us free will so that we could make our own choices because He knew that our love would be much less valuable if we did not choose to give it freely. And this is important, because in giving us free will, and in giving us the ability to rule over our own bodies, He also gave us a responsibility—to make those choices wisely.

I don’t know about you all, but I want to be a saint one day. It’s like, my number one top priority for my life. And I’m not saying that to brag—I’m saying it because I’ve got a LONG WAY to go if I’m going to get there, and I need all the help I can get.

So that’s why I’m fasting from corned beef this Friday. Salty meat won’t do much to better my soul, but abstaining from it on a Friday in Lent actually might.

GUEST POST: An [Aspiring] Dietician’s Guide To Fasting This Lenten Season

Ash Wednesday (which falls on March 1st, 2017) is right around the corner, marking the beginning of the liturgical season Lent. Fellow Catholics, this means we’re likely going to hear all about the Lenten trifecta “prayer, fasting, and almsgiving” in this Sunday’s homily as we begin this year’s penitential journey.

Prayer and almsgiving are two of my favorite ways to give glory to God, but fasting? Now that’s something I really struggle with. As a highly active, food-loving, aspiring registered dietitian (RD) with a hearty appetite (I’ve been known to eat the leftovers in the car on the way home from the restaurant), food is my business card. I am surrounded by it 24/7. And this makes fasting really difficult for me. I’m sure it’s difficult for you, too, if you love food as much as I do.

During my teenage years and my earlier adult years, I begrudgingly obeyed the fasting rules simply because it was what I was “supposed to do” as a Roman Catholic. However, since I started avidly listening to Relevant Radio in college, I’ve learned that fasting can have immense spiritual benefits. Curious to know more about these spiritual benefits, I consulted Fr. Slavko Barbaric’s book Fast with the Heart and learned that fasting can change hearts, end wars, work miracles, and bring peace, joy, healing, humility, purity, clarity of mind, and victory over evil – and that just scratches the surface.

I’ve also learned that fasting does not have to be miserable. Rather, fasting can (and should) be a joyful experience. According to Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. in an article for the Catholic News Agency, “[fasting is] the joy of deepening our relationship with Christ, and therefore coming closer to Him. It’s the joy of loving Him more, and the more we love God, the closer we draw to Him.”

Desiring to transform my fasting from an obligatory, routine Lenten practice into a joyful and fruitful experience, I set out to apply my knowledge about food and eating behaviors in order to create the “Catholic [aspiring] Dietitian’s Guide to Lenten Fasting”.

It should be noted that the scientific literature presents mixed results about fasting for health benefits. However, fasting for one day (if you are healthy) will not hurt your health. And the Church isn’t asking us to fast for extended periods of time. Thus, these guidelines are intended for short-term (i.e. day-long) fasts and should not be used for attempting weight loss or achieving other health benefits. If you desire help in managing your weight or a disease through your diet, consult your physician and local RD.

Alas, here they are- the future RD’s tips for having a successful and transformative fast:

Know the rules

What does it mean to “fast” and “abstain”?
Fasting means eating only one “full” or “normal-sized” meal plus two “snacks” or “small meals” in a day with no other snacks in between. The two “snacks” or “small meals”, when put together, should be smaller than the size of the “normal-sized’ meal. Beverages may be consumed as often as necessary, and any beverage may be consumed. However, I limit my caffeine intake because it makes me feel shaky if I haven’t eaten much (as a graduate student, coffee is my fuel. I promise, it’s not so bad to give it up 2 days out of the year). I also don’t drink alcohol on fast days since drinking on an empty stomach is usually never a good idea.

Abstinence simply means refraining from eating meat. Abstinence laws refer to “meat” as the flesh of animals that live on land, such as chickens, cows, sheep, and pigs. While broth, sauces, and gravies made from or flavored with the flesh of these animals are technically allowed, moral theologians argue that we must avoid them on days of abstinence. However, byproducts of these animals, such as eggs, cheese, milk, and yogurt, are allowed. Because fish are technically not land animals, it is not necessary to refrain from eating them on days of abstinence. It is also not necessary to abstain from eating shellfish, saltwater and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, and shellfish. Amphibians are not my thing, but if you’re craving some frog legs on a Lenten Friday night, go for it.

As an aspiring RD, I think abstinence has health benefits in addition to spiritual benefits. A large body of scientific research shows that reducing your meat intake (especially red meat) and consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and plant-based proteins (what up tofu, edamame, lentils, and legumes?!) is great for preventing heart disease and cancer while also optimizing the health of your digestive tract. Limiting our meat intake is also good for our planet, our “common home” which Pope Francis reminds us to care for in his 2015 papal encyclical Laudato Si. I’m not saying you need to become a vegetarian. What I am saying, though, is that instead of lamenting the meatless rule with your usual cheese pizza or fish fry, embrace it by turning Lenten Friday night into a date night or family night where you prepare some new plant-based recipes together! I think you will find that being joyful in your sacrifice makes it more worthwhile.

When are we supposed to fast and abstain?
According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. Fridays during Lent are also obligatory days of abstinence. Giving up meat for the entire duration of Lent is a common practice, but it is not required.

In other words, we only eat our one “normal-sized” meal plus our two “small meals” (no meat allowed) on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On the other Fridays of Lent, we are only required to abstain from meat. However, if you want to fast, too, more power to you.

Who is supposed to fast and abstain?
All Roman Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are required to follow the guidelines for fasting and abstinence. If you are older than 59 years of age and would like to fast, you are certainly welcome to as long as you are able. All Roman Catholics between ages 14 and 17 are required to follow the rules only for abstinence, but may participate in fasting if they desire and are able. Those who are excused from the fasting and abstinence rules are those whose age is outside the limits and those who are physically or mentally ill. This includes individuals suffering from chronic diseases where regular eating regularly is vital for disease management, such as in diabetes or certain eating disorders. Pregnant and lactating women are also exempted from the fasting and abstinence rules. Ultimately, the decision is left up to the individual and/or the individual’s caretaker/guardian if there is any question about fasting. The USCCB states that common sense ought to prevail when determining if fasting and abstinence are appropriate for a specific individual.

If you are unable to fast from food but still want to participate in fasting, consider “fasting” from something else that plays a role in your daily life, such as mindlessly browsing social media, listening to music in the car, or watching television. When choosing something to sacrifice, think about how fasting from it may deepen your relationship with Christ.

Get to know your normal eating patterns

Once you’ve decided if you are able to fast, you need a plan for how you’re going to do it. Before we actually get to making the “fast day” plan, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with your usual eating schedule and habits. I know it seems silly, but I promise that this is the most important step in having a successful fast. You’ve got to know what you’re working with before you make any changes. My suggestion for determining your usual eating habits is to keep a food diary for 2 days. Each day, write down everything you eat and drink, the times you eat and drink them, and how hungry you feel when you eat them. You can even keep the diary in your smart phone if carrying around a piece of paper and a pen is too troublesome. My favorite app/website for tracking what I eat is Health Watch 360. MyFitnessPal is also a popular choice. This way, you know what foods you usually eat, how many times a day you eat, and what you tend to eat when you are the hungriest. Keeping a food diary for myself was really helpful because it made me realize that I eat 4 similar-sized meals each day, and I tend to eat sugary or sweet foods when I am really hungry. Knowing these things about my eating habits helped me to come up with a “fast day” plan that worked for me.

Make a “fast day” eating plan

Now that you know your usual eating habits and patterns, you can create a “fast day” plan that incorporates your usual foods and your usual meal times. Just like people think they need to eat completely different foods (i.e. “follow a diet”) in order to lose some weight, I know a lot of people who think they need to change their eating habits completely to have a successful fast day. From working with clients and my own experiences, I know that this is simply not true. People tend to have better success with fasting when they incorporate the foods they usually eat into their “fast day” menu, just like people who want to lose weight have more success if they don’t completely eliminate all the foods that are a part of their everyday life. The key here is the amount of food you allow yourself to eat at your “normal-sized” meal and your two “small meals”

So how do you determine your “fast day” menu? Well, start by looking at your food diary and determine which meal you want to be your “normal-sized” meal. This is the meal on which you will not change any of the portion sizes. Personally, I like to pick my lunchtime meal to be my “normal-sized” meal because I don’t want to wait until the end of the day when I am starving to eat a full meal.

The next step is to eliminate everything you eat between meals so that you only have 2 meals outside of your “normal-sized” meal. Yes, I know, this is tough, but I promise you will survive without your favorite afternoon pick-me-up for 2 days out of the year.

Now that you’ve determined what your “normal-sized” meal is and eliminated the other foods you eat between meals so that you’ve got your menu narrowed down to 3 normal sized meals, the next step is to take the two meals that you did not pick to be your “normal-sized” meal and cut the serving size in half. For example, I usually eat a bowl of oatmeal with a banana and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter for breakfast every morning, so my “fast day” breakfast would be half a bowl of oatmeal with half a banana and 1 tablespoon of peanut butter. This way, I can still eat the foods that are part of my normal day, but in an amount that is appropriate for fasting.

The final step is to eliminate any meat that is left in your choices. For example, if you chose your grilled chicken dinner as your “normal-sized” meal, consider replacing the chicken with a salmon fillet or a black bean burger.

Other considerations for building your “fast day” menu include eliminating the foods that you eat when you are the hungriest, limiting sugary foods and foods high in refined carbohydrates, and consuming protein-rich foods that are filling, such as nuts, fish, and beans. Often times, eating the foods you tend to go for when you are the hungriest may make you want to eat more. That’s ok on normal days, but the hungrier you are on fast days, the more difficult it is to continue your fast. The same goes for simple carbohydrates. Simple, refined carbohydrates (like cookies, cakes, and sugary cereals) can make you hungrier, which can drive you crazy when you are trying to limit your food intake. Filling up on non-meat, protein-rich foods and vegetables can help keep you fuller between meals on your fast days while also supplying your body with all sorts of good nutrients.

If you are new to fasting or have had trouble with it in the past (like I have), I suggest eating a late dinner the night before and eating a little more than usual at that time. Despite what it has become, Fat Tuesday (more commonly known as Mardi Gras) is the day before Ash Wednesday, and it is intended to be a celebration where fattier, richer, and more filling foods are eaten before a fast begins. So take advantage of Mardi Gras and add a little extra something you like to your diet to “top off” your tank before you begin your Ash Wednesday fast.

Now that you have your “fast day” meal plan, make sure you write it down BEFORE your fast day so you know exactly what you are going to do! If you write it down, chances are you’ll actually stick to it.

Lastly, when you are ready to break your fast, try to resume your normal eating habits. While it may be tempting to “reward” yourself after fasting with a large steak dinner or a special occasion meal from your favorite restaurant, having a “reward” for your fast undermines the sacrificial meaning of your fast. With that being said, it’s important for your fast to have meaning so that it changes you and deepens your relationship with Christ. We must have greater intentions than ourselves for our fasts.

Be intentional

It’s tough to do something for the sake of doing it. Fasting is no exception. As I’ve already said, fasting is really challenging for me. However, I find that it I am more disciplined when I intentionally make a sacrifice for a cause other than myself. Discipline is important for adhering to the teachings of our faith and evangelizing in a world where Christianity is under attack. Right now, my intention when I practice fasting is my fiancé and our future marriage. It is my hope that practicing making sacrifices now through fasting will strengthen my discipline for being the wife God has called me to be for my future husband. Before you begin your fast, think about “intentions” for which you would like to fast. Whether it be a family member, a friend, our world’s leaders, or a cause (e.g. the sanctity of life), know that when you fast for someone else, it makes it that much easier to say “no” to the cookie tempting you between your “normal-sized” meal and your “small meals” on your fast day.

Pair it with prayer

Like peanut butter and jelly, fasting and prayer just go together. Fasting is hard, and it’s even more difficult without prayer. When we fast, we may experience an uncomfortable physical weakness in our bodies. Prayer gives us the spiritual strength and discipline to persevere in our weakness. Although our physical strength is restored when we break our fast, our spiritual strength continues to grow if we have included it in our fast. Begin and end your fast with prayer. Not sure how to pray during a fast? Visit Live the Fast for some inspiration. Also consider attending daily mass or Eucharistic Adoration on your fast days. Praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3:00pm Central Time with Drew Mariani on Relevant Radio and the Rosary are also great options. Note that your intention from step 4 can also be a part of your fasting prayer. When you invite prayer into your fast, your fast becomes more fruitful. Your belly may be relatively empty, but your heart will be full.

It is my hope that following these 5 steps will help you have a more joyful and fruitful fasting experience this Lenten season. Even if you heed my suggestions, it may take some practice to fine-tune the details in order to make your fast your own. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it right the first couple times. Fasting takes practice. You will be physically hungry and uncomfortable during a fast, but learning to satisfy the spiritual hunger will strengthen your discipline and your relationship with Christ. After all, the sacrifice we make through fasting is merely a fraction of the sacrifice Christ made for us on the cross.

God bless,
Patty

Patty Nonnie is a devout Roman Catholic, a bride-to-be, and a nutrition and physical performance dietetic intern/2017 Master of Science candidate at Saint Louis University. Even though she’s busy wedding planning and juggling her internship responsibilities, Patty makes time to enjoy the things she loves, such as spending carefree timelessness with her fiancé, cooking, riding her road bike around St. Louis, strolling through the Missouri Botanical Gardens, reading for pleasure, and listening to Relevant Radio. You may contact Patty at patricia.nonnie@gmail.com.

2017 Resolutions | How To Love Like Saint Teresa Of Calcutta

So I’m reading this book about Mother Teresa.

And let me just say, it’s really hard not to think about how bad you are at loving people when you’re reading a book about Mother Teresa. Like, come on. She’s like, the Michael Jordan of loving people. It’s really outrageous.

Her servant-heart was so remarkable. This is really the reason I sought out this book – because I’ve spent a lot of time this year thinking about how I’m totally NOT a servant-heart, and how I totally wish I was one.

I find myself contemplating the biblical story of Martha and Mary fairly often. In Luke 10:38-42, we read that Jesus stopped in the home of two sisters, Martha and Mary. As Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, Martha ran about the house, preparing the meal and acting as a hostess. Martha became upset at this and said to Him, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.”

Now, granted, Jesus defended Mary’s choice to sit at His feet. His message here was that we can’t be distracted from what’s really important. Nevertheless, Martha’s inclination to serve here is not condemned. This is important as well.

Service is not my inclination. In fact, if we were talking Dr. Gary Chapman’s Love Languages, Acts of Service is definitely not mine. Living with my family again for the first time in 6 years has been a painful reminder of that. And I’ve found that the more aware I become of my failings in this area, and the harder I try to be better, the greater a failure I feel that I am.

Mother Teresa is, in so many ways, my antithesis. Despite the ever-increasing barrenness she felt in her soul, she constantly forged ahead in love, always finding greater ways to forget herself entirely. She gave, and gave, and gave, and inspired everyone around her to do the same.

She challenged her Missionaries of Charity with a handful of objectives, some of which were:

– Make haste to serve as Mary did.
– Choose the hardest things. Go forth with a humble and generous heart.
– Say yes to peace… Hold your tongue rather than saying a word that might wound someone.
– Dedicate yourself without reservations. Give of yourself generously, unconditionally.

I’m pretty sure my guardian angel LOLed as I read these. I am SO BAD at these things.

In general, loving people is SO HARD. It’s so much more than simply saying, “I love you.” It’s so much more than giving presents at Christmas and birthdays. It’s so much more than spending quality time with one another. In truth, these things hardly scratch the surface.

Mother Teresa once said that “love, to be real, it must cost—it must hurt—it must empty us of self.”

Love is forgoing myself. It’s overcoming my own inclinations to defensiveness, to sharpness of tongue, to pridefulness. It’s asking myself, in the moments I’m feeling hurt or rejected or criticized, “how can I love the person in front of me?”

It’s forgetting myself entirely, and pouring myself out for other people. Yes, I’m tired today. I’m grouchy today. I’m feeling anxious today. But how can I serve my parents? How can I serve my sisters? Those I’ve neglected? Those I’ve taken advantage of? Those I’ll encounter today, whom I might never see again? This is the challenge. And this is the love of Mother Teresa.

I’m not really one for “New Year’s Resolutions” but I’d really like to be better at pouring myself out.

And loving through service is a good place to start.

In The Quiet Of My Heart | A Reflection On My Time In Rome

Tomorrow marks three weeks since I’ve been home from Italy. One more week and I’ll have been back in the states the same amount of time I was gone. It almost makes my stomach hurt to think about how fast that went. When I was in the midst of my trip, I kept reminding myself that when it was over, I’d feel like it had lasted only days instead of weeks. So far, that’s absolutely true.

There’s so much about this trip that I still can’t wrap my brain around. I can’t believe I did it. I can’t believe it’s over. I felt, at the time, that I was constantly taking pictures, constantly posting about it on social media, constantly making mental notes to share with friends and family when I got back – but now that I’m home, it feels like I have so little to really do it any justice.

I never intended for this trip to be four weeks of back-to-back-to-back travel, nor did I necessarily have a checklist of places I wanted to see or things I wanted to do. What I was really looking for was retreat, and that’s what I got. I thought I’d read a lot, and I did. I thought I’d write a lot, and I did. I anticipated I’d post on my blog much more often, but my brain had other plans, and thoughts wandered elsewhere, so I let them. Much of my time was spent in prayer and reflection. This was what I wanted.

The four weeks I was away felt like such a dramatic pause, at times, that it almost made me anxious. I sometimes found myself feeling antsy, thinking, “I should be doing something. I should be working. I should be job hunting. I should be at home, cleaning or spending time with my family or helping with projects around the house. I should be DOING something.” But in these moments, I tried to remind myself that there’s something to be said for simply “being.” There’s something to be said for moments of rest, and moments dedicated to prayer, and time spent in contemplation with God. After all, Saints have done it. Jesus did too.

In the months leading up to my trip, I prayed daily that it would be purposeful. I prayed that I’d use my time well and that I’d benefit from the time spent away. Truthfully, I gave myself literally down to the minute I was on the plane to decide that I shouldn’t go. At no point did I take a “no turning back now” mentality; I told myself all summer, and into the fall, that if Election Day came and went and I felt it was wrong to leave home, regardless of the reason, I wouldn’t go. But obviously, I did. And here we are.

If I’m sure of anything, it’s that I highly recommend traveling alone, and I plan to do it again. The week before Thanksgiving, I wrote that visiting these places by myself was lonely in some moments, mostly because I wished I had someone to share these experiences with. At the same time, though, traveling alone is so remarkable because it is so deeply personal. And when I’m asked about my trip, this is ALWAYS my initial response (although I don’t usually say it out loud): it was deeply, deeply personal.

Everything comes to the surface when you’re alone for that amount of time. Fears, anxieties, dreams, “the deepest desires of your heart” (as my mom calls them) break free from the loud noise of our busy lives of work and relationships and home life. This wasn’t something I anticipated. It reminds me of the phrase that priests sometimes use at mass – during Prayers of the Faithful, they’ll say, “for the intentions we hold in the quiet of our hearts.” I think that’s the space I found in traveling alone. In certain moments, I felt as though I tripped and fell and landed face first in the “quiet” of my own heart.

I’m also sure that we need to be better at acknowledging the seemingly-purposeless desires (like a month-long trip to Rome alone) that God places on our hearts. I’ve wanted this trip for years – since I was a freshman in college, at least. I’m not sure that I have anything tangible to point to and say, “look what came from this.” But the thought of the entire experience brings tears to my eyes, because I’m so immensely grateful I got it and am so sad it’s already over. That has to count for something.

I was listening to Fr. Mike Schmitz’s podcast during my run tonight, and at one point, he was saying that God wills for us to be fascinated. It seems silly, but he gave the example of an armadillo. Armadillos serve virtually no real purpose – in fact, they’re kind of ridiculous animals. But if you consider an armadillo as a part of God’s creation, they are absolutely fascinating. Everything, he said, should be this fascinating to us.

Immediately, I thought of my time in Rome. If I had to pin a word on the reason I wanted to go, “curiosity” probably comes close. I was curious about what I might see, what I might think, how it all might make me feel, what I might take from it – and, truth be told, prior to leaving, a small piece of me felt a little bit guilty about that. Is curiosity reason enough to spend time and money on this? I wasn’t necessarily confident before I left that the answer to that question was yes.

But I’ve had 3 weeks to think about it and now, my answer is resounding: yes, yes, yes. It was so worth it. Every minute away, every dollar spent, every twinge of loneliness. Every time I got lost, every calorie I consumed (mostly via pizza and wine), every line I stood in, every selfie stick vendor I denied (all but one) – I’d do it again a million times over, exactly the same way. Coming home, I feel peaceful, joyful, clear-headed, optimistic, hopeful, and so, so grateful.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta said, “We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls.”

I’ve told numerous people that I’m convinced I’ll reap the benefits of that time alone in Italy for a while to come, and in ways I probably can’t anticipate, even now. I don’t have many exciting stories to share, nor did I meet many people worth mentioning here, but I believe my faith is a little bit changed. Prayers will materialize, questions will be answered, and I’ll continue to look back on that time as something so deeply personal – time I spent alone with God, in the quiet of my heart.